Uganda Votes (updated)

A reminder of the link to the Uchaguzi “Citizen Election Watch–IT” site. And the “Uganda Watch 2011” site, which is a partnership including Citizen Election Watch–IT with funding from the multi-donor Deepening Democracy and the U.S.’s National Democratic Institute.

Also follow the hashtag #ugandavotes on Twitter.

[Update:  with voting concluded, the internet is alive early evening Uganda time with unverified vote totals being reported on Twitter directly and from SMS from various polling stations.  The dispersion of communication technology is continuing to have an impact–this is well beyond what was available in Kenya in December 2007.  Here is the initial Bloomberg story from Sarah McGregor an hour after polls closed.]

The BBC reports that voting has been proceeding smoothly after delayed poll opening.

Here are a couple of the overview articles from yesterday’s international press.

“Heads I Win, Tails You Lose”, Michael J. Wilkerson in Foreign Policy:

It’s hard to overstate Museveni’s advantage in Friday’s ballot. He has significantly more campaign funds — both legitimate and under the table — than the opposition. He has access to state resources to mobilize his supporters, and the loyalty of the security services. Uganda has seen record economic growth in recent years under his oversight. And Museveni has strong Western backing, winning praise for example for his innovative HIV/AIDS campaign and his commitment to fighting terrorism. (It also helps, of course, that he appointed the electoral commission.)

Sounds easy, right? Yet Museveni and his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), are leaving nothing to chance. Across Kampala, major billboards usually devoted to expensive advertisements for Coca-Cola, phone companies, or other big spenders have almost all been replaced with NRM campaign items. The party has even hired a helicopter to fly around the city dropping leaflets and blaring Museveni’s campaign song — a remixed version of his attempt to bond with young voters by rapping at a rally. And then there is Museveni’s use of government resources, like the presidential helicopter, to travel around the country and campaign.

Since it’s not officially reported, campaign spending is hard to gauge here. But Andrew Mwenda, editor of the Independent weekly magazine and consistent critic of Museveni’s regime, has an estimate: “Museveni has spent $350 million dollars on this election alone,” he told me.

Meanwhile, the government is effectively bankrupt. In January, parliament passed a supplemental budget increase of $260 million, yet just weeks later, Minister of Finance Syda Bbumba announced that the government was broke and ministries would be examining emergency cost-cutting measures. According to local newspaper reports, government officials confirm that money was diverted to NRM campaigns for the presidency and parliamentary seats, and $1.3 billion, or almost a third of the annual budget was spent in January alone. (Unsurprisingly, the IMF refused last week to sign off on Uganda’s economic policies, diplomatically describing them as “inconsistent” with previous agreements with the fund.)

“Uganda Will Deploy Security at All Polling Stations” by Sarah McGregor, Bloomberg.

What do you think?

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